The recently concluded finals of the idol survival show Girls Planet 999, which included contestants from Korea, Japan, and Chinese territories (China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong), has the public wondering again if Chinese idols don’t get a fair break among K-fans. Throughout the show, at least 2 or 3 Chinese contestants figure in the top 9 contestants of the show, which by its end, will compose a nine-member girl group. One of the Chinese contestants, Shen Xiaaoting, was ranked number 1 in three of the five episodes that have the contestant’s rankings revealed. And on the final episode, she ended up 9th.

With the Korean public becoming a tad weary of Chinese idols for a good number of reasons, such as the government implementing stricter guidelines towards idols and fans – from discouraging “sissy” idols to spending excessive amounts of money on voting in idol survival shows (which may also be a reason the Chinese girls ended up not performing well in Girls Planet 999) to several Chinese idols making highly patriotic political stands (e.g. Jackson Wang siding with the government on the Xinjiang cotton issue), fans of groups with Chinese members are crossing their fingers on the plight of their idols. Let’s have a look at three different cases of Chinese members of some K-pop groups.

Chinese K-pop Members on Top: The Case of Jun and The8

Perhaps, the most active Chinese idols in the K-pop industry are Jun and The8 of the 13-member group SEVENTEEN. Jun (who was born in Shenzhen, China) and The8 (a native of Anshan, China) have not been able to have a homecoming until last October. As the group debuted in 2015, Jun and The8 have not returned to China ever since, until recently, which means they haven’t been with friends and family for more than six years. Even the pandemic did not stop the two from continuously staying in Korea for the group’s last four comebacks in Korea – Hengarae (with the lead single Left and Right), Semicolon (with the lead single Home;Run), Your Choice (with the lead single Ready to Love), and Attacca (with the lead single Rock With You). The group has also had three Japanese comebacks since the pandemic started – Fallin’ Flower in April 2020, 24H in September 2020, and Not Alone in April 2021. All three releases have topped the Japanese Oricon charts, despite the group not actually holding in-person live events in the country due to COVID-19.

For the latest comeback, the two Chinese members were part of the recording of the entire EP and making the music videos. This means that they have versions of the songs with 13-person choreography and 11-person choreography. It has been a tad unfortunate though that when the EP Attacca was released on October 22, the two members are back in China. Both are still quite active in promoting the song on their social media accounts, though, and have also uploaded videos on the group’s TikTok account of them dancing to the “killing parts” of their single Rock With You. According to Pledis Entertainment, the two boys will be back in Korea in the New Year, which may most probably mean after the Chinese celebrations of Lunar New Year.

Judging from June and The8’s social media posts, there’s little to no reason why CARATs have to be worried about them and their status with SEVENTEEN. Besides, all thirteen members, including Jun and The8, renewed their contracts with Pledis, which is now under HYBE (aka BTS’ company) a year ahead of their expiration. It seems that the commitment of all members to the group is quite strong.

The Curious Case of the Chinese Members of WJSN

Here’s a story of another 13-member group: the Cosmic Girls or WJSN. From the group’s formation in 2016, the Chinese presence in the then-12-member group has been established, with Xuanyi, Meiqi, and Cheng Xiao holding prominent positions in the group. All of WJSN’s title tracks have been released in China and even have Mandarin versions. The three members were also present when the group welcomed a new member to their fold – Produce 101 alumna Yeonjung in late 2016, when her project group I.O.I allowed some of its members to join groups of their agencies.

Things went a bit awkward when the three Chinese members suddenly grabbed opportunities in their native China all at the same time while still promoting with the group. Fresh from the promotions of their latest EP Dream Your Dream (with the lead single Dreams Come True) from late February to mid-March of 2018, Meiqi and Xuanyi were pulled out from group promotions to compete in the first season of Produce 101 China. On the other hand, as early as January, Cheng Xiao went back and forth between China and Korea, as she was appointed as a dance mentor in the male idol group formation show Idol Producer. Fun fact: Cheng Xiao’s fellow coaches included EXO’s Lay, then GOT7’s Jackson, and then Pristin’s Kulkyung who were in various stages of activity/inactivity with their respective groups.

Meiqi and Xuanyi did well in Produce 101 China, so well that they were actually the two top-ranked contestants of the show. Due to their ranking, they automatically became members of the show’s project girl group, Rocket Girls 101. For her part, Cheng Xiao accepted acting jobs in China and did not return to Korea to reunite her group and participate in their next comeback, WJ Please, which had the lead single Save Me, Save You.

What happened to the two Rocket Girls? On August 9, Yuehua Entertainment (Starship’s partner in WJSN) and Mavericks Entertainment released a joint announcement stating that they would be withdrawing Meiqi and Xianyi, along with Mavericks talent Zhang Zining (who placed 7th in the show) from Rocket Girls. However, a week later, both companies confirmed that after coming to an agreement with Tencent (Rocket Girls 101’s company), that Meiqi, Xuanyi, and Zining will be returning to the group.

The Cosmic Girls continued to promote all throughout 2019, releasing three EPs. During this time, Meiqi and Xuanyi continued to promote with their new group Rocket Girls 101 while accepting acting and TV appearance jobs. While still promoting with her Chinese group, Meiqi released her debut EP in April 2019, which subsequently sold more than 2.5 million copies. Xuanyi also got casted in Chinese variety shows even during her time as a Rocket Girl. Cheng Xiao also continued appearing in C-dramas and variety shows.

Rocket Girls 101 disbanded in 2020, yet the two (plus Cheng Xiao) have not returned to promoting with Cosmic Girls. With a ton of activities in China, the three are not expected to reunite with their WJSN groupmates anytime soon. For their part, WJSN have had two successful comebacks despite the pandemic, with their two EPS, Neverland and Unnatural, selling more than 105,000 and 92,000 copies, respectively.

Chinese members of Cube’s Groups: CLC, Pentagon, and (G)I-dle

Three of Cube Entertainment’s groups have Chinese members – Elkie from Hong Kong, Yan’An from Shanghai (though born in Japan), and Yuqi from Beijing. There’s not a lot of weird activity solely happening with the three, with their careers taking rollercoaster rides because of the company’s (mis)management of their groups.

Let’s start with Elkie who’s supposed to be from the most senior of the three groups, CLC. Unfortunately, despite their “seniority”, it seemed that Cube had always been weird towards its treatment of the group. CLC was a sort of bridesmaid to 4Minute, which until their disbandment in 2016, was Cube’s leading girl group. When the group finally disbanded, the company showed their efforts in “prioritizing” CLC by adding two new members – Elkie who was then already a popular TV personality in Hong Kong, and Eunbin, who was at that time fresh from her stint in Produce 101 (eliminated in the second to the last episode). CLC showed promise with their High Heels Japanese comeback and their Hobgoblin Korean comeback, the latter featuring an image change for the group that showed them sporting an edgier concept resembling that of the then-recently-disbanded 4Minute.

The group felt like they were on their way to finally break through the local market when something weird happened – the company debuted a new group, (G)I-dle, which includes another Produce 101 alumna, Soyeon, and Chinese member Yuqi. The public instantly warmed up to (G)I-dle’s girl crush image with a slight softness. So, it seemed like CLC skidded a bit to the sidelines yet again.

For the part of Pentagon, they went the normal boy group career trajectory, as, during their debut in 2016, Cube was still holding a bit of hope for their “Legacy” group, BEAST, while now putting more effort into the promotions of their second boy group in line, BTOB.  Things took an unexpected turn for the better when the group’s song, Shine from ther sixth Korean EP POsitive became a sleeper hit, thanks to positive word of mouth from listeners who got hooked with the group’s trendy choreography and the song’s earworm quality. The song started out in the Gaon charts in the 500s, then rose by hundreds of places until it peaked at number 27.  It did feel like the group was finally on its way to attaining superior-level boy group levels of fame.

Then Yan’An got sick, making him take a health break from the group. Also, E’Dawn was revealed to have a relationship with Cube’s biggest stars, former 4Minute center HyunA. At first, the company denied this, then the two actually admitted to the relationship, after which the company dropped her and E’Dawn. Yan’An took another health break (a longer one this time for most of 2020). Members Junho and leader Hui (who was also in a group with HyunA and E’Dawen called Triple H) are currently on military duty, so the group is practically on that weird state exclusively occurring among boy groups: a hiatus with awkward and poorly promoted releases by still-active members. Yan’An is back with the group, but with its weird status, we’re not exactly sure what the future holds for the group.

This brings us back to CLC and (G)I-dle. With the company obviously preferring the newer group, CLC was pushed back and forth from sweet and innocent songs to edgy girl crush releases, while (G)I-dle getting better songs.

Their latest/last release was Helicopter in August 2020 and before the year ended, Elkie sent a legal notice to Cube Entertainment requesting termination of her contract, citing that she has not received payment for her acting activities and that Cube Entertainment had already stopped their “developmental support” of CLC, putting the group in an uncertain future. On February 3, 2021, Cube Entertainment confirmed that Elkie is not with the group anymore and her contract has been terminated. Fast forward to September, when member Yujin, who joined Girls Planet 999, said in an interview on the show that the group has been “dismissed.” As fans, we can only interpret this as CLC disbanding.

Finally, what has happened to the rather successful (G)I-dle? With EPs that sell more than 200,000 copies (AMAZING considering 100,000 units sold for girl groups is already a lot) and all lead singles charting notably high (the group’s last single, Hwaa, peaked at #4), the three-year-old group has achieved top-tier status in record time.  Considering they’re not from SM, JYP, or YG, their sales and chart performances are unquestionably commendable. They even won new fans when they participated and eventually placed third in the idol group competition Queendom, only placing behind MAMAMOO and Oh My Girl. everything is turning up roses for (G)I-dle until something gets messed up.

Only several weeks after the promotions ended for the group’s latest release, Hwaa, Cube announced that Soojin would temporarily halt all activities after bullying accusations by former classmates rose. The company has since encouraged individual activities, with Yuqi releasing her first EP as a solo artist, A Page, in May and Soyeon releasing her solo EP, Windy, the following month.

Finally, on August 14, Cube Entertainment announced that Soojin has departed from the group. (G)I-dle is now down to five members, but there hasn’t been news about a comeback. Several weird developments have happened since Soojin’s departure from the group, with various reports claiming that the members did not agree to Soojin getting booted out of the group and have become disappointed with Cube. Many also pointed out the lackluster support the company gave to Yuqi’s debut.

Finally, only days after the announcement of Soojin’s departure, rumors of Soyeon leaving Cube and therefore, the group spread like wildfire. On August 28, Soyeon hello a vLive session and eagle-eyed watchers were quick to point out that there was something tucked in her phone case – a business card with the logo of PNation, Psy’s relatively new entertainment agency that houses, surprise, surprise – the banished duo of HyunA and E’Dawn! That it has been months since the last comeback and the year is drawing to a close, fans can’t help but wonder if it is also “buh-bye Cube” time for (G)I-dle.

So, there you have it- the great, the mysterious, and the perennial mistreatment among Chinese idols. Let’s hope there’ll be more Juns and The8’s in the future of K-pop.

Featured image: [Special Video] SVT JUN&THE8 ‘MY I’ KOR ver. Photo: SEVENTEEN/YouTube